Reading Literature: Building a Castle of Words

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsImagination is certainly essential to science, applied or pure. Without a constructive power in the mind to make models of experience, get hunches and follow them out, play freely around with hypotheses, and so forth, no scientist could get anywhere. But all imaginative effort in practical fields has to meet the test of practicability, otherwise it’s discarded. The imagination in literature has no such test to meet. You don’t relate it directly to life or reality: you relate works of literature… to each other. Whatever value there is in studying literature, cultural or practical, comes from the total body of our reading, the castle of words we’ve built, and keep adding new wings to all the time. As for us, we can’t even speak of think or comprehend even our own experience except within the limits of our own power over words, and those limits have been established for us by our great writers.

From The Educated Imagination and Other Writings on Critical Theory: 1933-1963 (2006) by literary critic Northrop Frye.

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Why Writers Write

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsNow with the passing of years I know that the fate of books is not unlike that of human beings: some bring joy, others anguish. Yet one must resist the urge to throw away pen and paper. After all, authentic writers write even if there is little chance for them to be published; they write because they cannot do otherwise, like Kafka’s messenger who is privy to a terrible and imperious truth that no one is willing to receive but is nonetheless compelled to go on.

Were he to stop, to choose another road, his life would become banal and sterile. Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.

Read related post: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Responsibility of the Poet
The Power of Literature

From the essay, “A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller” (New York TImes, June 19, 2000) by Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel,  Holocaust survivor, activist, author (his most recognized work is Night, originally published in 1960), and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1986).